When I was a young boy, or young man, I should say, (as I certainly fancied myself one back then) I had a spectacular adventure. I’ll tell you about it now because as I’ve laid in bed these last few days, I have come to understand that whichever words I write in these last few pages of my diary, will serve as the last few pages of my life. I don’t mind, though. I know better than most how fickle Time can be. I’m lucky he’s let me get this far uninterrupted. I feel him peering over my shoulder as I write. I hope you’ll let me finish before it’s time to go, old friend.
I’ll begin in earnest now. When I was a boy of seventeen or so, I tripped over a bit of magic on the beach. I was taking a very stereotypical walk; angry at my father, I’d stormed out of the house muttering something about how he would never understand me, and I’d kept walking until I reached the beach. I loved the beach in winter; it was my safe haven. The softness of the dry sand swallowing up my feet if I stood still, and how, as I stood, the wind would beat against my cheeks, furiously trying to get me to move. I loved the sting of it — tiny droplets of saltwater pelting against me. The smell, too, it was like a blanket. The smell of brine, seaweed caked with salt. That particular day, I was walking the crude path that weaved its way through stalks of tall grass when I came across the magic. It caught my ankle, and I fell flat out on my stomach. I’d been so angry that day; it just felt like the one final embarrassment, but looking behind me, I was pleasantly surprised. I’d assumed it had been a piece of grass or a weed that had gotten me, but it was the magic. I recognized it immediately, though I had never seen any magic before.
Here I will try to explain how it felt: the magic was purple in color, no bigger than a breakfast bowl. It was transparent, yet still dark in hue. As I peeled it from my ankle to examine it, it felt a bit sticky. There were pieces of it leftover wherever it touched my skin. It weighed nothing; it was like a helium balloon. It felt as though it was made of thousands of tiny fibers all wound together. The longer I held it, the more electric it felt against my fingers. It buzzed, feeling alive and ready to be used. I turned it over in my hands, stretching it out a bit. It stretched with ease and held its shape. Then a girl came up to me. I hadn’t seen her before. It was rare to see other people on the beach in the dead of winter. She wasn’t wearing a jacket despite the cold. She wore only a pair of blue jeans and a sweater. She was pretty, though perhaps that’s not the right word. She was captivating. She drew you in. You needed to look at her for a long while before you could even decide what expression was on her face. She had pretty hair, like a crown, it was braided and twisted up so intricately that there was no way she could’ve done it herself.
“Can I have that?” she asked me, pointing at the magic in my hands.
“What is it?” I asked back, mesmerized by it, and by her.
“It’s magic, I think,” she answered, inching closer to me.
“Oh,” I said, not quite believing her. Being almost a grown-up at the time, I was no more likely to believe in magic than to believe in Father Christmas, but the girl was compelling. I decided to play along. “If it’s such special magic, then why should I give it to you?”
“I need it,” she said, “I’ve been chasing it for months.”
“But I caught it.”
She nodded, “I know you did; that’s how it works.”
“How what works?”
“Why, the magic, of course,” she explained, “I can’t just catch it for myself; someone has to give it to me,”
“But I’ve caught it for myself,” I said, pulling it into my chest.
“But you won’t be able to use it,” she said, exasperated. “You need two people. One who catches it and one who knows how to use it.”
“And you know how to use it?” I asked skeptically.
“Yes, give me a piece, and I’ll prove it.”
“Alright then,” I said, pulling a piece of the magic off. It gave easily, like candy floss. She took it from my hand and tossed it in the air, catching it on her finger like it was a hat and then swirling it around so it thinned out and expanded. After a few seconds, it became a thin disk shape, like pizza dough, almost transparent. She reached down to help me up from where I was still sitting on the sand and instructed me to stand on the disk. I stepped onto it with both feet, nervous at first, but soon I felt my weight lift off of me. I was flying. I felt like an astronaut walking on the moon. The purple magic stuck to my shoes and lifted me so effortlessly I felt weightless. When I finally lowered down the girl chuckled at my wonderment.
“See?” she asked me.
“Well, yes, but who’s to say that I couldn’t do that?” I said, still feeling high from my little adventure.
“Try it yourself,” she gestured to the magic I was still holding. The stuff on my feet had floated back up to join the rest of it.
“Fine.” I tried to mimic what I’d seen her do, but she was right, the magic didn’t stretch out for me. It stayed stiff, no matter how hard I struggled with it. Embarrassed, I handed it off to her. “What do you need it for?” I asked as she tucked the magic into a small purse.
“Ah, well,” she averted her gaze, “you see, I’m trying to kill Time.”
“Time himself?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yes,” she agreed, “I know it sounds a bit strange.”
“How on Earth does one go about killing Time?”
“Well, I know where he lives,” she said, pointing up to the sun. “We can go get him and drag him out of his house.”
“Time lives in the sun?”
“No, just behind it.”
“Why do you want to kill him?” I said, realizing the implications such a murder could have on the world.
“Because he wants to kill me,” she said.
“He wants to kill us all,” I tried to explain, “if he is a person like you say he is. He’s killed every single person who isn’t alive right now.”
“No, I know that,” she said dismissively, “but he’s always had it out for me in particular.”
“Who are you?” I asked her. She was mesmerizing.
“You know who I am; we’ve met before. But last time, if I remember correctly, you didn’t recognize me.”
“What?” I sputtered, “How could I ever have forgotten you, you’re so- “
“Beautiful?” She finished for me. “Oh, I know, but sometimes I’m intimidating. People tend to run away from me, especially when they’re young.”
“Hmm,” I remarked. “That makes sense. But I’m not afraid of you. I won’t run.”
“I know,” she said, a smile creeping onto her lips, “you recognize me this time, I think. Even if you don’t realize it yet.”
“I really don’t remember you,” I insisted, but she just smiled at me.
“You’ll figure it out.”
She pulled a bit of the magic out of her tiny bag and sculpted it into a long noodle shape. Then somehow, she kept stretching it out until it resembled a crude canoe. She smiled up at me, and without looking, tapped the shape with her finger, and the magic shifted. It darkened into a proud royal purple, and the edges smoothed out into a proper hull with a wheel. It was a ship.
And it was beautiful, and she was beautiful. I suddenly felt an overpowering need to go with them on their grand adventure. “Will you take me with you?” I asked. “To kill Time?”
“Yes, of course I will,” she giggled, “I need you.”
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Ah,” she waved her hand in dismissal, “my name is complicated. You wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.”
“Try me,” I said, eagerly.
She laughed indulgently. “I don’t think so. But tell me yours.”
“Why should I tell you my name if you don’t tell me yours? That’s hardly fair!”’
“No,” she agreed, “it’s not. But I told you, if you think hard enough, you’ll figure out my name.”
“I told you we’ve never met before. You’ve proven it because if we had, you would know what I’m called. My name is Nicholas. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nicholas,” she smiled at me, wistfully, “I remember now. She called you Nicky even though you asked her not to. And you called her Nini.”
I was shocked, more than I had been upon discovering the magic or flying above the beach. I took a step backward from her. “How do you know that?”
“I remember now. I knew Nina better than I knew you. She liked to play with your hair and count your freckles. And you liked to watch her dance.”
“Stop it!” I said; it was like she’d bitten me.
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I didn’t mean to remind you.” She stepped closer into me, and I got a better look at her face.
“You look like her,” I said in amazement. “You look like Nina. How did you do that?”
“Do I?” she asked, looking away from me. “That’s quite a compliment, Nicky.”
I froze. “Do not call me that.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again.“You’re touchy about her.”
“Tell me your name,” I said, more forcefully this time.
“I can’t, I told you. But you’ll figure it out. Come, get onboard. Time tends to slow down on Sunday mornings, that’s why I’m going now. If we wait until night time, he’ll practically be sprinting.”
“Monday morning always comes too fast,” I whispered to myself.
“Exactly,” she grinned at me, stepping into the boat. I followed her. However stupid it was, I wanted to go. I was so young, so fearless. I wanted to feel the wind on my face. And mostly, I wanted to keep staring at this beautiful girl, who looked a bit like another beautiful girl I’d once liked quite a lot.
We boarded the great magical boat, and it took off into the air, making us weightless. It was quite the view. We flew upwards towards the sun. She stood at the front of the boat and steered like a proper captain.
“Won’t we burn up if we get too close?” I asked her, shouting over the wind.
“I don’t think so,” she said, “I can handle the heat quite well. I like it. It makes me stronger. It’s the cold that gets me.”
“Well, what about me?” I said, chuckling, but suddenly a bit scared.
“You’ll be alright, just don’t think about it too much and it won’t bother you,” she said.
“Um, how do you mean?”
“If you don’t worry about burning up, you won’t burn up. Or at least I don’t think you will,” she answered, laughing.
“I don’t think it works like that,” I said, not laughing anymore. I looked over the side of the boat, wondering if I could jump into the water. But I was too high; if I’d jumped, I would’ve broken every bone in my body.
“You’re in a flying boat,” she turned to look at me, “and you’re still thinking about what they taught you in science class? That’s silly. But I’ll make you a shield if it’ll make you feel better.”
“Yes, please,” I said, gripping the sides of the boat, terrified.
“Fine, then you’ll have to steer for a bit.” She took her hands off the wheel and gestured for me to take it.
“Can I?” I said doubtfully.
“Of course you can.” She smiled reassuringly. “Just point us towards the sun.” I stepped forward and took the wheel in both hands. It was warm, and it buzzed under my touch.
“Magic,” I whispered to myself.
“Yes.” She giggled behind me, fashioning a shield from the magic stored in her bag.
“So why does Time want to kill you so badly?” I turned my head to see her smiling mischievously.
“I defy him. I make people hate him. Sometimes I can even make him stop moving for a little while.” Her smile dropped. “But he hates me. He’s always killing little bits of me or speeding up around me. It’s not fair. So I’m going to kill him. And everyone will be better for it.”
“You can make Time stop moving?” I asked.
“Yes,” her smile returned, “there’s a trick to it.”
“Teach me,” I said, barely gripping the wheel. She was entrancing.
“Gladly,” she stood up in the boat and walked over to me, staying still for a second when she was close enough for me to feel her breath.
“Are you magic?” I whispered to her.
“Maybe,” she said, shrugging. “Some people think so.” Then she kissed me. I wasn’t surprised, though maybe I should’ve been. It felt like I’d done it a hundred times.
When she took a step back, she was still smiling. “See? Time stopped moving.”
“Oh my God, it did,” I said in amazement. The boat had stopped entirely moving while we were kissing.
“Yep. But now it’s going faster, see? We made him angry.” She pointed towards the quickly approaching sun. She took the wheel back, and I grabbed the shield she’d made for me and held it in front of my face. Looking through the magic, she seemed to sparkle in the sunlight.
“I think you are magic,” I told her.
“I’m glad you think so,” she said. We kept on sailing, and I did not seem to be burning to death, which I was immensely thankful for.
As we approached the sun, I thought we would sail right through it, but she turned at the last minute, gliding behind it. You’d think it would be bright and hot behind the sun, but I’m afraid it’s the opposite. It was bright but in a blue way, like sunlight through stained glass windows of only one cool color. As I looked around a bit, I realized we’d landed on another beach. The sky we’d been cutting through had turned to water, and the clouds had become white sand. She rolled her pant legs and jumped out of the boat without hesitation. I followed, marveling at the beauty around me for the umpteenth time that day. The water was warm, and the sand beneath it soft. The sands of Time?
“So,” she said, breaking me out of my trance, “this is where he watches us from, back on Earth. We just need to find where he’s sitting and sneak up on him.”
“Sneak up on Time?” I asked her, laughing at the ridiculousness of such a plan.
“Yes,” she said, entirely seriously.
“And what will we do once we sneak up on the great concept of Time himself?”
“We jump him.” She grinned deviously. “If we can stop him moving long enough, I think he’ll just sort of fade away. Right?”
“We just jump him? Isn’t he omniscient or something? Won’t he see it coming? And what will we do once we stop him? Won’t we die if Time stops moving?”
“No, we won’t!” Her eyes widened, she looked a bit crazed. “As long as he is alive, I’ll always have an expiration date. If I kill him, I’ll be eternal. We all will, but me especially. He won’t be there to ruin me anymore! Do you understand? It’ll be wonderful.”
“Wonderful? You still haven’t told me who you are. How can I possibly trust you this much? What have you done to make me trust you so much already?”
“You’ll trust me,” she said, smiling, “I know you will.”
“Why should I when you won’t tell me who you are?” I snapped back.
“Because you’ve already trusted me so far. And if I tell you who I am, you won’t anymore.”
“Well, that’s comforting.”
“Come on, Nicky,” she crooned, stepping a bit closer to me.
“It’s Nicholas, if you need to address me,” I said curtly.
“If you’re so angry with me,” she took my hands in hers, “then just take the boat and go home. You can sail it; you did before. But if you stay here and help me, I’d be ever so grateful. It really will be better if he’s dead.”
I started to protest, but she had the most mesmerizing grey eyes that I hadn’t noticed before. They gave me pause. It was like seeing the full moon for the first time. She smiled as she caught me looking at her so deeply.
“Alright,” I said, not sure how she’d managed to bewitch me once again. “I trust you.”
“Wonderful,” she smiled again, squeezing my hands. “I knew you’d come around.”
“And I have,” I said, but I was troubled. She was doing something to me, and I knew it.
“Wait,” I said, and she cocked her eyebrows expectantly. “Am I going to die? Have you brought me here to die so you can kill Time yourself?”
“No, no, of course not, Nicky, of course not,” she said in a calculated voice.
“Tell me the truth,” I said seriously. “There are things I haven’t said. I’ll take the boat back.”
“No, I’m telling you the truth. I told you, we’ll be immortal.” She let go of one of my hands. “You can tell her when he’s dead.”
“Tell her?” I asked. Not that she wasn’t right; it was exactly right. I had one specific she in mind.
“I know about Nina,” she said calmly. “We talked about her, remember? She called you Nicky. She played with your hair. Is that why you’ve got it so short now? So nothing reminds you of her?”
“No, no, that’s got nothing, nothing to do with anything,” I said weakly. Of course it did.
“You want to tell her that you loved her,” she said, “Right?”
“Wrong?” She looked as if I’d wounded her.
“I’m not wrong,” she said indignantly. “You did love her. And you never told her. And if you die, your last thought would be of her. Or perhaps of me. Same difference.”
“Yes, you’re right about all that,” I murmured. “But I want to tell her that I love her, still. Not that I loved her then.” I looked down at my bare feet, slowly being buried in the sand. My shoes, I realized, I’d left on the beach back home.
“Ah, yes, of course!” She said. “How could I have missed it? Carless of me. Well, you’re not going to die. And when we get back, when it’s all sorted, everything will be eternal. Myself included.”
“It doesn’t matter though,” I said. “It’s not about love, present tense or otherwise. It’s about practicality, I suppose. That’s what my father says.” I recall now, as I’m writing this, however many years later (I think I’ve lost count), that was actually the cause of my father and I’s fight that morning. The start of it all. Practicality and my lack thereof. I wanted to follow her to New York.
She stumbled backward. “How dare you say that to me?”
“It’s true. I’ll be off to college soon. Off to Oxford.”
“No, no, it’s not true! This is exactly it. This is why we have to kill him! And you will be in love again because you deserve to be in love forever! Not just for a couple of years! We’ll put it right.” She closed the gap between us and threw her arms around me. I was a bit surprised, but I hugged her back. She smelled like peppermints and roses.
“You’re fantastic,” I whispered into her fiery hair. She unwrapped her arms from around my neck and held me at arm’s length. I could see the moons in her eyes. I said something silly, although, looking back, it wasn’t my fault. I said, “I think I could fall in love again right now.”
“With me?” She asked.
“Why, yes, I think so,” I murmured, fixated on her eyes. “You’re beautiful, and you’re magic. And you take me on grand adventures. And your kisses make time stop altogether. And I think I do love you.”
“Oh, Nicky,” she said, reaching up to touch my cheek, “not again.” I laughed a single syllable, baffled.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“This is how he beats me. Every time. Every time I’ve tried,” she began to cry, “I always get caught up in myself, and he sneaks up on me.”
“Who sneaks up on you?”
“I do,” a profound voice said from somewhere above us. I jumped a bit, but she only hunched her shoulders and cried harder. I knew who it was.
“Time,” I said, to the space where the voice had seemed to echo from.
“Yes,” the voice answered; it was so low it crackled when he spoke. “And this,” a wind seemed to descend and scoop the girl up. She seemed to be floating. “is Love. My little sister.” The voice chuckled.
“Your little sister?” I said, staring at Love.
“Yes,” the voice seemed to give a disembodied nod. “But we don’t get on very well.” He chuckled.
“Oh my God,” I said.
“You’ll find none of Him up here,” the voice said.
“I fell in love with Love?” I asked both of them.
“As so many before you have done,” Love told me, sitting up on the invisible couch.
“No, no, don’t confuse the boy,” Time said. “Nicholas, you fell in love with a perfectly real girl, if what I heard just now was correct. Her name was Nina?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Nina… so what happened?” Time asked, “Did I take her from you?”
“She isn’t dead if that’s what you mean. She was a year older than me. She got a job dancing at the Metropolitan ballet. She left home, went all the way to America. And I’m Oxford bound in the Autumn. I’ve worked my whole life to get in. We could only talk long distance, so there’s no point in love.”
“There’s always a point!” Love shouted at me.
“Come now, little sister.” Time said. “I understand what the boy is saying. But Nicholas, there is always time. I am always passing. Sometimes very slowly, but I’m never still. Perhaps there will come a time when you will move to America, or she will come home to London.”
“Maybe,” I said, fixated on Love. She’d changed. She didn’t look so much like Nina anymore. She looked more like what you’d expect her to look. Classically beautiful, but not nearly as captivating.
“So,” Time said matter-of-factly, “Love, why don’t you take the boy home. You’ll find him again one day, I think.”
“Fine,” she said, jumping down and taking my hand. She’d turned cold. We got back into the boat, and I couldn’t help but feel a terrible sorrow overcome me as I left Time’s magnificent beach.
I felt a breeze next to my ear and then heard a whisper, “Do not let my sister work her magic on you anymore, young one. You must be strong. She will find you again, and when she leaves you, I will be there to patch you up. I have been told that I am capable of healing all. We shall see, I suppose,” he chuckled kindly, “I don’t believe I have failed yet.”
And with that, we were off. We sailed wordlessly back to the earthly beach and touched down. During that boat ride, Time moved very quickly. We got out of the boat, and it, along with my shield, curled back up into a little ball on the sand.
“Take it,” she said. “You might need it one day.”
I didn’t protest. I just slipped it into my pocket.
“I will kill him one day,” she promised, “I hate him. He’s always taking people away from me. And then they hate me. It’s not fair. I try so hard to make people happy!”
“I don’t mind,” I said. “I’ll find Nina. He won’t take her away from me. I won’t let him. Then you’ll always be with me because I’ll always be with her. And I’ll always tell her. Everyday. I’ll tell her that I love her.”
“You do that, Nicky.” Love smiled brightly up at me.
“And I’ll let her call me ‘Nicky’ as much as she wants.”
“Good.” She beamed up at me.
I took her face in my hands and whispered, “Let’s stop him one more time, aye?”
“Let’s,” she giggled, kissing me again. The second we broke apart, she was air. She blew past me and whispered, “Bye bye, Nicky.” And then she was gone. Leaving me with nothing but the little bit of magic in my pocket.
I still have the magic. Though I’ve never used it, I keep it in a little drawer in the bathroom. Not very ceremonies, but it’s safe there. Someone will find it when I’m gone.
If you’re wondering about Nina, we did rekindle our flame for a little while. I followed her to New York, defying my father and taking a gap year. But we grew apart. She was a bit fickle, and I was too bohemian for her, I think. Nevertheless, I’m glad I ended things properly. A few years later, I found a girl, and we had a son. And I’ve found, as my life has progressed, he is all the love I need in my life. The girl didn’t stay long. Time took her from me I suppose, but that’s alright. We always got on just fine with the two of us.
Love is still trying. I know because she tried it on my son when he was sixteen. My poor boy, he was devastated. It was his first time. At least I’d had a real shot with Nina before Love swept me away. He came back that day with a vague story about a beautiful girl on the beach and her brother. After that, he was just like me, still in love with the idea of Love. He’s got himself a real girl now, and I do believe he has found Love again with her. I couldn’t be happier for him.
Yet here I am, at the end of the line, Time has caught up with me. Perhaps my son’s son will be the one to finally get him. I certainly hope so. That’s why I wrote this down, so maybe a young boy a few generations after my own will find it and learn what he must do. But off I go now. Off on my next adventure.